I still remember the big laugh on the other end of the phone last summer when I called my grandma, frustrated because I could not find a single potato plant at any of the garden centers I had been to. She said, “Baby, you’re not going to find a potato plant. What you need to plant is a piece of potato with an eye on it.” Huh?
That’s the day I learned the value of those squiggly, root-like structures (aka “eyes”) protruding from the skins of some of the older potatoes hanging out in my pantry. I had always broken them off and tossed them in the compost bin without a second thought. Talking to my grandma that day changed everything.
You need eyes to grow
Potatoes are grown from what you call “seed potatoes”. These are actually small cubes of potato tubers cut into chunks with “eyes”, or sprouts which form new tubers underground. As I begin planning my spring garden – much more enlightened than last year – I have seed potatoes, not potato plants, on my planning list.
Now, before you run to your pantry to see if you have any potatoes with eyes, there’s one more thing you should know. Conventional potatoes are sprayed with synthetic anti-sprouting chemicals. So if your potatoes aren’t organic, they won’t make good seed potatoes. Many garden supply companies like Sow True Seeds (http://sowtrueseed.com) and Johnny’s Seeds (http://www.johnnyseeds.com) sell certified seed potatoes. However, if you live near a market or grocery store that sells organic potatoes, you can buy a few and sprout them yourself.
Wake ‘em up
Potatoes need rest. And when potatoes are at rest, or dormant, they don’t sprout. Therefore, you have to nudge potatoes out of their dormant state in order for them sprout eyes so they can ultimately be planted. Potatoes stored in a cool (~40 degrees F), dry space, like a pantry, will remain dormant, however relocating potatoes to a warmer location (~50-70 degrees F) with indirect light will help break their dormant state and urge sprouting. This is what you want to happen so they can be planted.
Once the soil temps in your garden bed or container pot warms to 45 degrees F or higher, seed potatoes are ready for planting!